Saturday, February 21, 2015

"Lichtenstein does not torture the paint"

Frederic Tuten on Roy Lichtenstein's studio:
Others could explain more precisely about his process. It started with an outline on the canvas for what would become the painting. He would fill in the spaces with colored paper cutouts, and tape them in place to see how they would look. He’d move the cutouts around until he decided what worked. There was a template for the dots too. So even before the actual painting process began there was a collage of how it would eventually look. His was the exact opposite of the Abstract Expressionists’ aesthetic, which was supposedly the personality of the artist declared on the canvas. His personality was in paintings, but certainly not bombastically so. Roy’s work was very organized, systematic, and intelligent. Nothing left to chance. It was all deliberate, like when he made the “Brushstroke” series. These paintings are a bit of a joke about Abstract Expressionism, because the brush stroke, the rhythm, the swipe, all that was premeditated—as if to say, this is how spontaneity can be engineered.

"Brook your ire!"/toga-speech

At the FT, Simon Schama on what historians think of historical novels (site registration required):
Those who start in the thick of it, I like best of all. The writer who made me want to be an historian was Columbia University professor Garrett Mattingly. In 1959, he published The Defeat of the Spanish Armada, which has the imaginative grip of a novel but is grounded on the bedrock of the archives. It begins with a name the significance of which we, as yet, have absolutely no idea; with an exactly visualised place. Through the repetition of a single word “Nobody,” we hear the tolling of a bell ringing the doom of someone or other.
“Mr Beale had not brought the warrant until Sunday evening but by Wednesday morning, before dawn outlines its high windows, the great hall of Fotheringhay was ready. Though the Earl of Shrewsbury had returned only the day before nobody wanted any more delay. Nobody knew what messenger might be riding on the London road. Nobody knew which of the others might not weaken if they wanted another.”
What is this? Who is this? Where are we? You want to read on, don’t you? So you do so with the intense excitement of knowing every word is true.

Closing tabs

Lost a very dear family member on Friday to cancer (metastatic melanoma, diagnosed in the days just before Christmas): my mother's husband Jim Kilik. Will write a proper memorial for him in a few days; in the meantime we are really just mourning (I will go to Philadelphia tomorrow to be with my mother for a bit).

I have accumulated a dreadful backlog of links and light reading: even the thought of logging it makes me want to lie down in a darkened room with a moist towel over my eyes! But it must be done before I can get my head around the many other writing-related things that need to happen round here....

Ta-Nehisi Coates on what he owed to David Carr.

Edward P. Jones profiled in the Washington Post.

Todd Gitlin on the enlightenment project.

A brief memorial for the linguist and novelist Suzette Haden Elgin, whose novel Native Tongue made a huge impression on me when I read it at age thirteen or fourteen.

The fantastical imagining of Hungarian paper money.

Eating chocolate in space.

Several independent things this past week prompted me to think of the lovely Eames Powers of Ten.

Inigo Thomas on Fattipuffs and Thinifers. NB this was a book I never actually read, though it was alluringly advertised in the back of some other Puffin children's books I must have had: I should see if I can actually get hold of it.

Art of the Afghan war rug.

Were the soldiers of the terracotta army based on individual people?

Using your cat to hack your neighbors' wifi (shades of "That Darn Cat").

Have been very busy reading things for work, but of course there is always time for some bits of light reading around the edges. Some of it inconsequential, some of it very good indeed.

FODDER of variable quality: Susan Hill, The Soul of Discretion (at first I wondered why I'd let this series drop, then I remembered the things I don't like about them!); Patricia Briggs' Sianim series; Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest; Ned Beauman, Glow (impressive, agile, over-ingenious); Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members: A Novel (I have been avoiding this one as letters of recommendation are FAR TOO MUCH PART OF MY LIFE ALREADY, but really it is very good); Richard Powers, The Time of Our Singing (supreme comfort reread - the third-person narration doesn't work as well as I remembered, but the voice of the main narrator is incredible, and it's hard to imagine a book that feels more directly written to me - will perhaps now reread James Baldwin's Just Above My Head, which I think of as the secret twin/precursor); Emma Bull, War for the Oaks (another comfort reread); Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train (very depressing, but a decently good read); Simon Wood, The One That Got Away (just about above the bar of readability); Jim Gourley, The Race Within: Passion, Courage, and Sacrifice at the Ultraman Triathlon (afflicted by many of the problems that so much writing about endurance sport has - silly glorifying of what is often stupidity, annoying magazine-feature style of blow-by-blow narration, etc. but nonetheless a very good read - NB I think I do not need to do an Ultraman race, particularly not the Hawaii one, whose bike course just sounds dreadful!).

Then a few things I'll single out for particular recommendation:

Nina Stibbe's Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home is delightful (more here).

Top pick, a book I'm already sure is one of my favorites of the year: Daniel Galera, Blood-Drenched Beard. Dwight Garner's review was electrifying to me. Could there possibly be a novel more closely tailored to my particular loves? (Professional triathlete, sea swimming, whales and penguins, a dog as a main character, face-blindness [which I do not have, just relatively poor facial recognition skills, but I do have the matching thing where every place in the world looks the same to me], a Borges-Murakami access of slight mystical overtones....) Anyway, BEST BOOK EVER! Nice additional Galera bit here.

Ian MacLeod's The Summer Isles: very lovely, haunting, makes me want to reread Jo Walton's Farthing books as well.

Richard Price's The Whites, not perhaps as good as his very best books but really a great piece of work regardless (is it just me or does that elegiac breakneck narration of the opening grow wearisome as a narrative mode? He does it so well, but I am not sure it's something I really need more of in my reading life, it seems to express an orientation towards the present and the past that I can't really endorse - something overly sacral, reverential - I like the less elegiac version of similar in gonzo noir).

Last but not least, Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Painfully gripping - a good recommendation from my friend J. B., who comments that it should be required reading for anyone who hopes to grow old.